UK National Archives Launches API

The National Archives has published a new API, as part of an ongoing program to get more public records online, according to ComputerWeekly.com.

The National Archives API provides programmatic access to over 11 million records from the discovery service catalogue, broken down into a seven-level hierarchical structure:

  • Department - Government department, agency or body that creates the records
  • Division - Administrative section of a department
  • Series - The main grouping of records with a common function or subject
  • Sub-series - Smaller groupings of records with a common function or subject
  • Sub sub-series - Smaller groupings of records with a common function or subject
  • Piece - A piece can be a box, volume or file
  • Item - A part of a piece. It can be a bundle, a single document, a sub-file, etc.

Access is provided without restriction or charging for content, but costs $3.50 per document to retrieve the same records online through the website.

Aleksandr Drozdov, architect for the National Archives, said they have been speaking with academic historians to help them find ways to use the API in their research, and they are very interested in access to the archives in a programmatic way.

According to Computer Weekly the National Archives is also working an e-commerce system. Since private companies have been paying the National Archives 52M since 2002 for the digitization of paper records they could then resell through websites, the API and associated e-commerce system are a perfect fit.

The move by the National Archive may prove a great model for other institutions to not only open up access to their collections, but provide new ways to derive revenue from collections, and allow for commercial use of images, documents and other items that have been historically very hard to access.